The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will move to prevent foreigners from advancing political causes in Singapore after the latest amendments to the Public Order Act, announced Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday (Apr 3).
The Commissioner of Police may now refuse to grant a permit for public assembly or procession – if it is directed towards a political end and organised by or involving non-Singapore entities or citizens.
“It has been the Government’s long-standing position that foreigners and foreign entities should not import foreign politics into Singapore; nor should they interfere in our domestic issues, especially those of a political or controversial nature,” said Mr Shanmugam.
“This ensures that Singapore is not used as a platform by foreigners to further political causes, especially those that are controversial or divisive.”
He asked: “Let’s say you have Malaysians financing an event in Singapore, encouraging Singaporeans to take part, which says shariah law ought to be imposed. Do you think we should agree? The answer is obvious, isn’t it?”
“Our Singaporeans organising a protest is one thing. Foreign-financed, (or) participated protests are a completely different ball game.”
Nominated Member of Parliament Kok Heng Leun later asked if the amendments would curtail “active citizenry” or participation in Singaporean civil society, but Mr Shanmugam said: “I wonder if we are moving like ships in the dark in the sea – the Bill says one thing and Mr Kok’s speech pretty much has nothing to do with the Bill.”
He said he agreed with Mr Kok’s points, but that they had nothing to do with the amendments, which were targeted at foreign participation.
“In fact, I’d say, have more faith in our citizens,” Mr Shanmugam added. “Don’t just hope for foreign involvement in organising events. Why don’t we have confidence that our own people can organise and take part in civic activities?”
Said Mr Shanmugam: “Look at Pink Dot. Last year, my ministry made it clear we will not agree to foreign participation. As a government, we don’t take a position for or against Pink Dot, but we do take a position against foreign involvement.
“The point is this is a matter for Singaporeans, Singapore companies, Singapore entities to discuss.”
He added: “There was concern that when we say no to foreign sponsorship, for example for Pink Dot, it will have an impact on the event. But as you see, based on media reports, Singaporean sponsors are stepping up.
“Have confidence in Singaporeans. Don’t think you can only do well by getting money from foreigners and getting foreign participation in.”
DEFINING “POLITICAL ENDS”
Mr Kok and MP Louis Ng also raised questions on whether the police commissioner would have the institutional competence to make decisions on the definition of “political ends”, and whether political neutrality would be compromised in the process.
“Any attempt to define upfront a political or nonpolitical event will run into shades of complexity,” Mr Shanmugam responded. “All you will end up doing is creating alleyways and byways in which your definition will be made useless and you will be a made a laughing stock.”
Therefore discretion has to be given to the executive – in this case, the Commissioner of Police, he said.
“The alternative is to run to court for each time somebody is not happy and that is not the way you can run a proper government,” said Mr Shanmugam. “The way we run a government successfully and cleanly has been to vest discretion in many areas in executives, with the knowledge that our highly educated population will hold the executive to account if there is abuse of that power.”
“In this context here we are specifically dealing with the Commissioner looking at an event and saying it is political involving foreigners. I don’t think Singaporeans will argue with this, in giving the Commissioner the discretion to make that assessment.”
He added: “If the Commissioner declares an event to be political, that doesn’t make him political. He’s not deciding in favour of one conclusion or another. His is a threshold question – does it involve political ends?”
“Our position is that we will make the decision. If we are wrong, we will take it on the chin and our people will know whether the decision is being exercised properly or improperly. And if we keep making decisions improperly, any government will face the consequences.”